4 Best Oil Based Primers: Reviewed for Latex Paint & More

So, you have decided to tackle a painting project in and around the house, and you may be wondering what the best oil-based primer may be to suit your specific needs, and why you may need it.

As the saying goes, ‘never ask a paint to do a primers job!’, and I will give you some ideas as to why that is. Before painting, it is recommended that you use a good primer or primer/sealer to cover the existing coat of paint.

The reason for this is simple. Primer will stick better to old paint than new paint does. Further than that, applying a quality primer will help to prevent the new paint from looking blotchy and will create a more even sheen.

Primer creates a consistently smooth layer for even spreading of the paint, and gives the paint something to bind to. Furthermore, using a primer before painting will ensure that your paint looks and wears better. Let’s now review some of the best oil-based primers out there.

Oil Based Primer - Comparison Guide



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Where to use


Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain InteriorExterior Oil Primer Sealer

Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain 

1 qrt

Interior & Exterior


KILZ Original Multi-Surface Stain Blocking Interior Oil-Based Primer-Sealer

KILZ Original Multi-Surface

1 qrt



Rust-Oleum 272479 Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Spray Primer

Rust-Oleum 272479 Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus

13 oz

Interior & Exterior


Rust-Oleum Corporation 03609 Cover Stain Oil Base Primer

Rust-Oleum Corporation 03609 Cover Stain

16 oz

Interior & Exterior


Different Types Of Primers

When searching for a primer, you will find three basic variations on the market: shellac, latex (water-based) or oil-based. Here’s what you want to know before choosing one for your project.

Oil Based

You can use an oil-based primer with your latex and oil-based paints. That makes them versatile and able to use with most any project. Oil-based primers work well on wood, steel and most other metal surfaces. You can even apply them on top of existing paints. If you need to kill stains or prevent future stains, oil-based primers are great at covering up imperfections.

The reason some people shy away from using oil-based paints is that they take longer to dry. In addition, many of them contain large amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can hurt the environment as well as your health. When using an oil-based primer, you will need harsh solvents or thinners in order to clean up the brushes or applicators when you are finished.

Latex-Based (Water)

Latex-based primers are the same thing as water-based. These are ideal for use on unfinished drywall. In addition, latex-based primers are flexible and dry quickly. They are less brittle than a typical oil-based primer. They also seem to prevent cracking and peeling.

Working with softwoods such as pine is a good time to use a water-based primer. They are also great for concrete, galvanized metal and brick applications. Latex-based primers are easy to clean up from brushes, rollers and sprayers. Many people like that water-based primers are lower in VOCs. There are even some formulations that contain none at all.


Shellac has been a tried and tested primer for centuries. It has generally been used for sealing woods but works on a variety of other surfaces.

Shellac provides the best stain-blocking and odor protection of any primer. They also prevent water, smoke stains and rust from occurring. Use shellac-based primers on plastic, plaster, wood or metal surfaces. While they are fast-drying and highly adhesive they often contain a large amount of VOCs. When you are using shellac-based primers, you will need to use denatured alcohol for cleanup.

Benefits Of Oil-Based Primers

best water based primer

While water-based primers are easy to use and cleanup, oil-based primers have some real value in the painting world. Oil-based primers are capable of being used with both oil and water-based paints.

They also are effective when working on wood projects. In addition, you’ll find that many metal surfaces and steel will also respond well to oil-based primers.

If you have a surface that has stains or you want to prevent future stains, oil-based primers are the go-to material to use. They are known for the cover-up ability of imperfections. It is true that using an oil-based primer might require a little more cleanup than a water-based paint. The benefits normally far outweigh the extra time this takes.

Overall, oil-based primers tend to be the most long-lasting formulations available on the market. If you are painting an area that receives excessive touching or use, such as windows, cabinets and doors, you’ll want to start with an oil-based primer.

Why Is An Oil-Based Primer Good for Exteriors?

best oil based primer

When talking with professionals about which primer to use on the exterior, you are going to end up with a wide range of answers. Many of them do agree oil-based primers tend to penetrate the wood better than other primers.

The reason they are able to penetrate deeper into the wood is that they dry slower. This offers a better undercoat. When painting on bare wood, use a stain blocked oil-based primer.

If you have knots in the wood, this will also prevent future show through. Using a latex-based primer allows those knots to show through easily. If you are painting a wood that is prone to bleed through, oil-based primers are always the best option.

In addition, most exterior surfaces tend to be textured or rough. If this is the case, the best plan of action is to start with a quality prep of sanding and scraping. Then follow up with an oil-based primer and several coats of a quality latex paint. This will help you to resist the staining and weathered look that often happens with exterior surfaces.

Top 4 Oil Based Primers Reviewed

These are the best oil based primers on the market in 2018.

Each offers some different features for surfaces so keep reading to find out more informtion and which is the best option for you.

1. Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer Sealer

Manufactured in the United States, this oil based stain killing primer/sealer is guaranteed to add some extra shine to the paint that you choose to use. Its high-holding formula blocks out most stains, and helps conceal water, smoke and nicotine stains.

Zinsser Cover-Stain is ideal for interior and exterior surfaces, and is perfect for new, remodeling, or repainting work. It dries quickly on interior surface and sands easily, providing flexibility on an array of surface materials.

This primer further helps enamel undercoating performance and aids in delivering full penetration on exterior surfaces.


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    Covers stains
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    Used indoors or outdoors
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    Applies quickly
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    Adheres to many surfaces
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    Adds shine to a project


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    Only available as a quart
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    Might take longer to dry than expected

2. KILZ Original Multi-Surface Stain Blocking Interior Oil-Based Primer/Sealer

KILZ Original Multi-Surface Stain Blocking Oil-Based Primer covers existing stains and odors, as well as helping to prevent new stains and odors, and prevents mildew. It blocks most stains, including: water, smoke, tannin, ink, pencil, felt marker and grease.

This primer effectively seals pet and smoke odors, and its versatility allows it to be used on most interior surfaces, such as wood, drywall, plaster, paneling, wallpaper, masonry, brick, painted metals and properly prepared glossy surfaces.

This product is not recommended for use on flooring and wearing eye protection during use is suggested. KILZ Original dries to the touch in 30 minutes, and is perfect for walls and ceilings with mild to medium stains, after existing mildew has been removed.

The 1-Gallon can cover an area of around 300 square feet, and can be applied using a brush, sprayers, or a roller.


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    Covers stains and odors
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    Applies smoothly to most indoor surfaces
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    Dries to the touch in 30 minutes
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    A gallon covers about 300 square feet


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    Not for flooring
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    Not to be used outdoors

3. Rust-Oleum 272479 Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Spray Primer

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Spray Primer is an all-purpose, high-performance primer that can be used for both interior and exterior applications. This oil-based primer is great for residential, commercial and industrial purposes, and provides 20% greater coverage, ensuring a longer life and better quality for your top coats.

It can be used on new or previously painted concrete, drywall, wood, masonry, gloss or difficult surfaces, and metal. The oil-based formula seals uniformly and provides a smooth, white finish.

It has been further designed to block imperfections with only one coat, and will stick to any surface without the need for sanding. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 covers an area of 12 square feet and dries to the touch in just 30 minutes.

Furthermore, it has excellent stain blocking properties and can be used over any oil or Latex topcoat, which makes this primer great for latex painting over an oil-based primer.


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    Used indoors or outdoors
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    Sticks to most surfaces without sanding
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    Easy spray-on application
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    Dries to the touch in 30 minutes


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    One can only covers 12 square feet
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    Achieving a smooth application takes practice

4. Rust-Oleum Corporation 03609 Cover Stain Oil Base Primer

The Zinsser Cover Stain Oil-Based Primer is great for blocking Cedar and Redwood bleed and is an excellent exterior wood sealer. It’s great for sealing water, smoke and nicotine stains, drying to the touch in just 1 hour.

Zinsser Cover Stain sticks to all surfaces, and surfaces need not be sanded for cohesion before use. This primer is a whole-house primer/sealer and is a favorite among professional.

Used to hide dark stains and prevent tannin bleed, while at the same time providing deep penetration to ensure an amazing seal to exterior wood, making this product a great oil-based exterior primer.

A stain killing primer/sealer all-in-one finish that comes with a vertical aerosol for all overhead and professional projects.


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    Covers most stains
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    Dries to the touch in an hour
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    Sticks to most surfaces
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    Easy spray-on application
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    Can be used outdoors


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    One can only covers a small area
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Tips For Applying Oil Based Primer

If you want the perfect finish to your project, you’ll want to follow these ten tips for applying oil-based primer.

  • 1
    Clean your wall well prior to application.
  • 2
    Lightly sand the surface you’re applying the primer to.
  • 3
    Remove any nails or screws before applying.
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    Spackle any holes in the wall before priming.
  • 5
    Make sure you stir the primer well.
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    Utilize painter’s tape on anything you don’t want to be covered.
  • 7
    Don’t worry about streaks on the first coat; they will be unseen after a smoother, second coating.
  • 8
    Overlap your strokes for the best results.
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    Make sure you paint the surface within a week of priming.
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    Always allow for proper ventilation where you prime.


Frequently Asked Questions

What Kind Of Primer To Use Over Oil Based Paint?

You’ll need an oil-based primer as latex paint cannot be applied over oil-based paint.

Can You Use Latex Paint Over Oil Based Primer?

Yes, as long as you prepare the surface first. Just don’t use oil-based paint over a water-based primer.

How Do You Thin Oil Based Primer?

Add a small amount of mineral spirits until you reach the proper consistency.

Can Water-Based Paint Go Over Oil Based Primer?

Yes, but you must let the primer dry all the way and then sand it down.

How Long To Let Oil Based Primer Dry?

It should be dry to the touch within 30 minutes and ready to recoat within an hour. Full adhesion is achieved in seven days.


Of all the oil-based primers out on the market today, these four have surely proven themselves worthy of being trusted partners in your next DIY or painting project.

Saving countless hours of washing walls and tough stain removal will surely help you save valuable time and money, stretching your paint and protecting surfaces against stains, mildew and unsightly wood bleeding and tannins.

I hope that this informative glance at these oil-based primers will help you when choosing the best oil-based primer for your next big project. Good luck!

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